Children celebrate Eid Al Fitr in Baghdad in 2004. This year festivities in the region have been subdued. Mohammed Fala’ah / Getty Images
Children celebrate Eid Al Fitr in Baghdad in 2004. This year festivities in the region have been subdued. Mohammed Fala’ah / Getty Images

An Eid anthem from the 1980s is enjoying a new lease of life



Nostalgia for a more united, tolerant and peaceful Middle East seemed to capture the hearts and minds of those celebrating the holy month of Ramadan this year.

Reminiscing about “the good old days”, regardless of whether they ever actually existed in the form being remembered, became a popular pastime.

So it should come as no surprise that following a somewhat subdued Ramadan due to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, including sectarian attacks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Arabs of all ages could be seen singing along to one of Eid’s most cheerful anthems from the 1980s which was revived yet again on TV for Eid last weekend.

Just singing the first line “Ahlan ahlan bel Eid/ Marhab marhab bel Eid” (Welcome, oh welcome Eid/ Greetings, oh greetings to Eid) followed by the happy hooray that everyone knows by heart, brought the atmosphere alive: “He he heey/ He he he, heey”.

Last Friday, on the first day of Eid, I saw an entire restaurant join in with a family who had started to sing El Seoud’s hit during lunch in Dubai; no one seemed to care how ridiculous they looked madly hooraying.

Called Welcome Eid, the song was originally made popular by the iconic Egyptian singer, actress and TV presenter Safaa Abou El Seoud, who retired from the public eye following her marriage to the Saudi businessman and founder of ART TV, Saleh Abdullah Kamel. The music video has an almost cult-like status and shows El Seoud with an enormous bouffant hairdo, dancing and singing, with children joyously waving balloons, enjoying rides in the park and running through the streets. "He he heey/ He he he, heey" indeed.

Across generations, from grandparents to grandchildren, the song is remembered and shared as joyous proof of a more innocent time.

“It is just so contagious and happy,” says Alia Ahmed, an Emirati in her 30s, who taught it to her children. “No Eid is complete without this song, and we especially need happy songs these days.”

Reading the lyrics, the song also contains positive messages of love, wishing others well, of giving and prayers: “Hope the whole world remains happy ... and we remain brothers, inside out,” El Seoud sings.

In many ways, the song also reflected the themes of popular dramas televised during Ramadan, such as Haret El Yahud (The Jewish Quarter), a controversial series set in Cairo in the 1950s in a neighbourhood in which Jews, Muslims and Christians all lived together harmoniously.

Given the growing polarisation in Egypt and across the Arab world over politics and faith, its broadcast is timely and its aim to revive a sense of tolerance and understanding to be applauded.

The series is careful to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and Zionism, the movement established to create a Jewish homeland. A hundred years ago, Egypt had a thriving Jewish community of 80,000 or more. Now there are reportedly fewer than a dozen Egyptian Jews left in Cairo and the city’s old synagogues have fallen into disrepair.

There used to be Jewish quarters in almost every city in every Arab country, but most have long been renamed, their stories forgotten.

To take one example, amid the glitz of downtown Beirut, the rundown 1925 Magen Abraham Central Synagogue has been renovated but remains largely empty. The Jewish community in Beirut is estimated to be fewer than 100 these days, but once numbered as many as 14,000 and can trace its roots back to 1000BC.

The Jewish faith is one of 18 religions officially recognised in Lebanon but its people generally keep their religious identity a secret for fear of reprisals.

But perhaps one of the strongest messages of tolerance, unity and living in peace was to be found in an unprecedented kind of advert on Arab satellite channels decrying sectarianism. With a hashtag of #IAmKuwaiti #OneKuwait, which trended on Twitter across the Arab world after the suicide bombing in Kuwait of a Shiite mosque, we see a child coming into the living room and asking his father: “Am I Sunni or Shiite?” His father replies: “You are both. Our God is one ... and, if someone asks if you are Sunni or Shiite, you tell him, ‘I am Kuwaiti’.”

Even the fantasy-filled production of Alf Laila Wa Laila (The Arabian Nights), another series filmed for Ramadan this year, which has been called an Arabised Games of Thrones, chose for its plots tales related to good and evil.

No one, it seemed to say, with its stories of white and black magic, is truly evil and no one is completely good. At its heart is a message of forgiveness and the acceptance of difference.

As the Arab world hopes for an evermore elusive happy and peaceful time, the beloved old Eid song echoes the dreams of its fans: “Say after me, say after me, Oh God increase happy times in our lives and add more blessings ...”.

Rym Ghazal is a senior feature writer and columnist with The National.

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Dubai works towards better air quality by 2021

Dubai is on a mission to record good air quality for 90 per cent of the year – up from 86 per cent annually today – by 2021.

The municipality plans to have seven mobile air-monitoring stations by 2020 to capture more accurate data in hourly and daily trends of pollution.

These will be on the Palm Jumeirah, Al Qusais, Muhaisnah, Rashidiyah, Al Wasl, Al Quoz and Dubai Investment Park.

“It will allow real-time responding for emergency cases,” said Khaldoon Al Daraji, first environment safety officer at the municipality.

“We’re in a good position except for the cases that are out of our hands, such as sandstorms.

“Sandstorms are our main concern because the UAE is just a receiver.

“The hotspots are Iran, Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq, but we’re working hard with the region to reduce the cycle of sandstorm generation.”

Mr Al Daraji said monitoring as it stood covered 47 per cent of Dubai.

There are 12 fixed stations in the emirate, but Dubai also receives information from monitors belonging to other entities.

“There are 25 stations in total,” Mr Al Daraji said.

“We added new technology and equipment used for the first time for the detection of heavy metals.

“A hundred parameters can be detected but we want to expand it to make sure that the data captured can allow a baseline study in some areas to ensure they are well positioned.”

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